Hip-Hop, Beyond Bling

A scene from
A scene from "The Actor's Rap!" at Studio Theatre, above, part of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. Left, J. Kyle Manzay with Napiera Groves in the same production. (Photos By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 14, 2007

Six women appear on a black stage, in a black room -- women in different states of distress. In whispers, angst and anger, they are discussing HER, a personification of hip-hop, a character in female form. Wondering about HER, hip-hop's transformation from soul-stirring culture into something unrecognizable.

They don't know HER anymore, and now she is dying, beat-boxed to death by commercialism, violent gangsta rap, feuds, long-legged women shaking it in videos, and thus pushing ordinary women who used to love HER into a fringe community with no real value to HER, except as tinsel, as eye candy.

Deceived, the women in "HERstory: Love Forever, Hip-Hop," are at hip-hop's mourning wall, spray-painting graffiti homage.

An actor/reporter steps forth onstage at Howard University. Her voice clear and succinct: "It's amazing to see all these women gathered. I don't think anyone expected this type of turnout. If you could give HER a message right now, what would it be?"

Eve: "That I remember you, when you were more than popular music."

Krystal: " That we're here for you, and all those people that wanna claim you when they profit off your art, where are they?"

Isys: " That I understand you never really meant to hurt me like you did."

The play, written by Goldie E. Patrick, kicked off the week-long Hip-Hop Theater Festival in the District. In its sixth year, the festival, sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, offers a mix of live theater, dance and poetry from local and national artists. The performances -- which will end today -- are free on stages throughout the city, including at Howard University, the Studio Theatre, Dance Place, Flashpoint Theater and the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

It has been a week of praising hip-hop's roots and lamenting so much of what hip-hop has become, a week of love and loss, of letting go and holding on to a hope of what a new school of hip-hop can become.

A week of hip-hop-generation artists seeking answers to hard questions:

Is hip-hop dead? Has it become too commercialized? Where is it going? Why aren't there more venues for hip-hop theater in the city? What is the state of hip-hop, a culture that was born in the early 1970s, with a distinct style, sound and state of mind, a culture that incorporates four elements: DJing, MCing (rapping), break dancing and graffiti.

"KRS-One, a professor of hip-hop, said it best when he said rap is something you do," Patrick says. "Hip-hop is something you live."

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